6 Best Hiking Trails in Cape Town
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Cape Town isn’t only a vibrant metropolis that is used as a base for a South Africa trip. It is also an outdoors lover’s paradise. This city has a rich outdoor culture that begins with parks and gardens, and extends to nearby hills and mountains. Hiking trails in Cape Town are gateways to unique sceneries and views over the city’s fantastic beaches, streets, the harbor, and more. Whether you’re a complete novice or an experienced hiker, Cape Town has hiking trails suitable for everyone.
We give you a snapshot overview of six best hiking trails (in no particular order) in Cape Town; strategically categorized based on difficulty level – Easy, Moderate, and Difficult.
1. Newlands Forest Contour Path Hiking
If hiking over rocky mountain tops isn’t your thing, we suggest visiting Cape Town’s Newlands Forest. It’s located on the eastern side of Table Mountain and offers numerous ways to enjoy in relaxing greenery and tall trees. This is also a perfect picnic spot, so you can bring your lunch and take a peaceful break.
The most popular hiking trail here is the Contour Path, which is a full loop that starts from the Newlands Forest Station and ends there. It’s incredibly easy to navigate since it’s marked with signs and maps at almost every intersection.
- Offers wooden boardwalks and fantastic views of the forest’s greenery.
- Numerous picnic area where you can take a break amongst the tall trees.
- Several historical spots, like the Lady Anne Barnyard’s Cottage.
- Can be very crowded during weekends.
- Start/End Location: Starts and ends at Newlands Forest Station
- Hike Duration: 1 hour
- Hike Difficulty: Easy – Great for inexperienced hikers.
- Transport To/From: Take public transportation to the Imhoff Sports Complex. From there you’ll need to walk to the Newlands Forest Station. You can take a transportation back to your accommodation from the same Sports Complex.
- Permit Required: No permits required.
- Good to Know: Inside the Newlands Forest you can find the City Parks Nursery. It consists of four large greenhouses where you can check out some of the indigenous plants.
2. Cape Point’s Shipwreck Trails
The Cape Point’s Shipwreck Trail isn’t only an easy and enjoyable hike but offers interesting stories and sights of several ship wreckages from many years ago. This route starts from the Olifantsbos parking area, from where you can take one of the three available routes.
We recommend taking the full Shipwreck Route which is around 5 kilometers longs. You will encounter the Thomas T. Tucker’s ‘Liberty Ship’ – an incredible photo opportunity. Along the route, you’ll also get to see the Nolloth shipwreck. This is a circular route, so you’ll end up at the starting point.
- This route allows you to see and explore a number of old rusty ships stranded on the shores of Cape Point.
- The shore of Cape Point offers a variety of terrain; sometimes you are walking on rocky coastline and next on a sandy beach.
- Less crowd, and great opportunities to enjoy some pristine, hidden beaches.
- There are sometimes baboons on this route, and they are attracted to food.
- Start/End Location: The route starts and ends at the Olifantsbos parking lot.
- Hike Duration: 2.5 hours
- Hike Difficulty: Easy – Great for inexperienced hikers looking for adventure.
- Transport To/From: You can reach the Cape Point by bus. A shuttle service is available from the city. Or you can hop on a sightseeing bus that offers a full day’s excursion.
- Permit Required: Entry costs approx. USD 11 per person.
- Good to Know: Although it is a short hike along the seashore, it is advised to wear hiking boots and suitable clothes. Bring plenty of water.
3. Crystal Pools Hiking Trail
The Crystal Pools hiking trail is located within the Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve, an hour’s drive outside of Cape Town’s downtown. The route begins easily, but soon plates up rocky terrain. You’ll face a series of cliffs and rocky areas that demand your full attention. The biggest highlight of the Crystal Pools route, as its name implies, is a series of small pools. They are usually surrounded by large rocks, so you can jump in and take a swim. You get to the first pool after a full hour of walking, and to the second one after an additional hour.
- The series of pools are a welcome respite.
- You’ll get to see the Steenbras Dam at a distance, as well as Faise Bay and Cape Point.
- Perfect for outdoor lovers – the hike gives you a chance to see unique plant species.
- The Crystal Pools hiking area is closed in winter. You can visit it only from 1st November to 30th
- Start/End Location: Start and end at Kogelberg Biosphere Reserve.
- Hike Duration: Around 3 hours
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate – Perfect for hiking enthusiasts.
- Transport To/From: Take a taxi or travel in your own car towards Gordon’s Bay on the N2 road. Continue towards Clarence Drive until you arrive at Sunbird Guest Lodge. Park your car and continue on foot over the nearby bridge. This is where you’ll see the entrance to the nature reserve.
- Permit Required: Permit costs approx. USD 5 and is obtainable via the City of Cape Town’s website.
- Good to Know: To get the most out of this hiking route, make sure to pack a swimsuit. Also, you won’t find any restaurants here. Pack a lunch and bring plenty of water; the pools may look pristine but the water is not suitable for drinking.
4. Platteklip Gorge Hike
The Table Mountain looming over Cape Town is a familiar sight. The mountain top offers magnificent views of the city in its full glory. One of the most popular ways to do get to the top is via hiking. Fortunately, a trip to Table Mountain offers numerous different hiking trails.
Platteklip Gorge is one of the most popular hiking trails on the Table Mountain. It is a short and steep route that takes you to the top of the mountain where the cable car awaits. Although it is challenging, it doesn’t have many technical difficulties. Once you get to the end of the route, you can take the cable car and return to the city – all the while enjoying the incredible views over Cape Town’s shoreline.
- Outstanding view of Cape Town.
- Experience the Cape Floral Region which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- You can take the cable car to get you back to the city.
- It is a popular hiking trail, so expect the company of many fellow hikers.
- Start/End Location: The trail begins at the Cableway. You can use the cable car to get to the beginning of the Platteklip Gorge trail. The trail ends near the upper cable car station, which can be used to return to the city.
- Hike Duration: Around 3 hours
- Hike Difficulty: Moderate - not recommended for complete novices.
- Maximum Altitude: 1114 meters
- Transport To/From: You can use the public transportation to get the Cableway. Once you arrive at the top of the Tabletop Mountain, you can use the cable car to return to the city.
- Permit Required: No permits required
- Good to Know: It is recommended to start this hike early in the morning to avoid hot weather that can easily exhaust you. Also, make sure to ask about the cable car’s schedule so that you can plan your hike accordingly.
5. The Bridle Path Trail
If you’re looking for a tough challenge in the Table Mountain, we suggest doing the Bridle Path Trail that starts at the Kirstenbosch Gardens. The botanical garden is nestled on the eastern side of Table Mountain, and is accessible by car or public transportation. As you exit the botanical garden, you’ll see a signpost pointing you towards Bridle Path which is one of the peaks of Table Mountain. Be prepared for steep gravel roads that go through a thick forest. Bridle Path is the highest point of this hike, which continues all the way down to Nursery Ravine. The descent from the Bridle Path starts with a slow decline, but soon you’ll encounter hundreds of stairs.
- Scenic vistas along the route.
- A great summer hike since most of it is under tree shades.
- The botanical garden is an added bonus, if you have the time and energy to explore it.
- The trail can be crowded at times.
- Start/End Location: Starts and ends at the Kirstenbosch Gardens.
- Hike Duration: Around 6 hours.
- Hike Difficulty: Difficult – Suitable only for experienced hikers
- Maximum Altitude: Around 600 meters.
- Transport To/From: Cape Town Public Transportation can be used to get to the Kirstenbosch Gardens. The bus arrived every 30 minutes, so you can easily find your way to and from the hiking trail’s starting/end point.
- Permit Required: No permits required.
- Good to Know: If you’d like to avoid crowds, start early in the morning. If you’re visiting during the colder months, bring warm clothing. Also pack a lunch for the long hike.
6. Lion’s Head Hiking Trail
Lion’s Head Trail is perhaps one of the best-known Cape Town hikes. Positioned between the famous Table Mountain and Signal Hill, Lion’s Head is an almost conical mountain that offers a 360° view, including the city, the sea, and the Table Mountain. While the trail for most part circles around the mountain, there is quite a steep trail towards the top that makes for a delectable challenge. If you are fit and don’t mind some steel ladder climbing, or chain climbing, then there is no reason not to try this trail. Your rewards are an exhilarating experience and an unprecedented view over Cape Town.
- Breath-taking view over the bustling metropolis.
- An early morning hike avails you with a wonderful view of the sunrise.
- There are a few lion caves on the Lion’s Head, so you might want to explore at least one.
- The popularity of the trail rounds up quite a few hikers even early in the morning.
- Start/End Location: Signal Hill Road to Lion’s Head and back.
- Hike Duration: 3 hours.
- Hike Difficulty: Difficult – There are several sections that require climbing steel ladders and a nerve-wracking hike with chain handrails.
- Maximum Altitude: 669 meters
- Transport To/From: You can use the city’s public transportation to get you to Kloof Nek. From there, a short walk will take you to Signal Hill until you reach a gravel parking area. This is where the hiking trail starts. At the end, you can use an alternate route to return to the base.
- Permit Required: No permits required
- Good to Know: Full Moon Hike up Lion’s Head is a very popular activity, wherein you reach the top of the mountain to watch the sunset and enjoy the sight of the full moon and the sparkling city below. Wear suitable footwear for the hike, bring plenty of water, packed dinner and expect a crowd at the mountain top!
A tour of Cape Town has so much to offer for outdoorsy people. And if you cannot get enough of hiking, then the city will leave you rotten for choices. The list above is our recommendation of the best hiking trails Cape Town has to offer, depending on the level of difficulty you are up for. Make the right choice for yourself, and when you feel like it, don’t be afraid to push the envelope a bit.
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